Amandla Sternberg was barely a teenager when she appeared opposite Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. Since then, she’s gone on to establish herself as one of the most promising actresses of her peer group, with a stirring performance in The Hate U Give, in addition to roles in 2020’s The Eddy and last year’s big screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. Next up will be a starring role in the live-action Star Wars Disney+ series The Acolyte.
For the time being, however, Stenberg remains Earthbound. Her latest movie is Bodies Bodies Bodies, directed by Halina Reijn. A bloody, darkly comedic murder mystery, the film stars Stenberg as the newly sober Sophie, who, with her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) in tow, joins a bunch of longtime pals at the mansion of her best friend David (Pete Davidson) for a party against the backdrop of an impending hurricane. When people start dying, old grievances get aired and the paranoia ratchets up, as characters begin to turn on one another.
The A.V. Club recently had the chance to speak with Stenberg about her work on the film, the impact of social media on relationships, how activism intersects with her choices as an actress, and more.
The A.V. Club: The movie takes its title from a murder-mystery game. Have you ever played any of those types of games in real life?
Amandla Stenberg: Oh yeah, totally. I think the game that I’m most familiar with is Werewolf. Human beings have this perverse desire to accuse each other of things! It seems to exist across every culture and every language and generation.
AVC: How much of an on-ramp did you have to establish with your costars what has to be a very complex, intertwined history between all of these characters?
AS: Our original script was so complex and lengthy, and there was so much that had to be cut from it for you to receive the Bodies Bodies Bodies that you receive now. We had a very gorgeous ramp lined up for us, in that there was all of this knowledge of the backstories of the characters, the deeply connected nature of their interpersonal lives, the cultures that they experienced together—all those things were laid out so elegantly and with so much detail by our screenwriter.
And so with Halina’s help we were aided into creating an environment where we could feel that we were theater actors and had a stage, because Halina comes from a background of theater. And so for her what was so important was taking the text and digesting it and digesting it and digesting it, and then throwing it out and being present, moving through the space and paying attention to the power of blocking and each other’s bodies … bodies bodies [Laughs]. And making sure that there was an electric movement throughout all the pacing, and spatial relationships between all of us. So I really see that when I watch the movie back now. I most of all see Halina’s theater experience coming through strong.
AVC: There are deep-seated resentments in the relationships of these characters. How much of an attraction was that element of the script? And how much do you feel those types of air-quote friendships are perhaps reflective of or influenced by the prevalence of internet culture and social media?
AS: Oh that’s a great question. That was what I was so fascinated by. I have had at times in my life, thankfully not now, friendships like these. I think we all have, in some capacity. And it probably shifts depending on the generation, but there’s always that friend or that social scene or that human instinct to have that hyper-intellectual, competitive, antagonistic, sardonic, ironic nature with each other. Sometimes when you land in a group of people like that, it feels like when you are trying to express something intellectually that you are clawing for your very life. And so that was kind of the culture that these characters were born out of.
But then I think what’s interesting about it now—and what I think our writer Sarah DeLappe did so beautifully—is to examine what it’s like when you have that type of culture and that friend group in a time and information age in which we do not actually interrogate or engage with information we read, or see, or experience, very deeply. Most of us are just reading a tweet or a headline, and the way we start to characterize events, and each other, and relationships, have all become quite streamlined, and shaped by the forums on which we disseminate information. That can be really detrimental and scary, and I think it can reveal that maybe the foundations of some of your relationships are not built on the sturdiest legs.
AVC: Activism is a big part of your life. How do you feel that intersects with your artistic choices, if at all?
AS: It’s not a separate part of me, because I am the person that I am, therefore everything that I feel and see and think and experience filters through the lens of my identity. I am just interested in projects that shine a light on something complex and important … I don’t know, maybe not even complex. But I’m interested in any film that shines a light on something that feels authentic and relevant.